The Hasbro meltdown begins: content restrictions added to D20 license

It took a while, but Wizards of the Coast’s corporate masters are finally setting about ruining a perfectly good product. The full scoop is available on that there GR page, featuring an eloquent anonymously-posted comment signed “Ryan Dancey.” The relevant chunk of the revised D20 STL is included below – basically, WotC may deny you the use of the D20 logo if your product doesn’t meet their standards of “decency.”

From the D20 System Trademark License:

4. Quality Standards

The nature of all material You use or distribute that incorporates the Licensed Articles must comply with all applicable laws and regulations, as well as community standards of decency, as further described in the d20 System Guide. You must use Your best efforts to preserve the high standard and goodwill of the Licensed Trademarks. In order to assure the foregoing standard and quality requirements, Wizards of the Coast shall have the right, upon notice to You, to review and inspect all material released by You that uses the Licensed Articles. You shall fully cooperate with Wizards of the Coast to facilitate such review and inspection, including timely provision of copies of all such materials to Wizards of the Coast. Wizards of the Coast may terminate this License immediately upon attempted notice to you if it deems, in its sole discretion, that your use of the Licensed Articles does not meet the above standards.


  1. Rather than pissing down WotC’s leg, it seems to me that more folks ought to direct their ire at Anthony Valterra. WotC was perfectly happy to remain hands-off, with minor course corrections in the OGL, until Valterra decided to take a huge, steaming crap right in the middle of the d20 market. Perceived demand or not, he’s made an embarrassment of the entire d20 arm of the roleplaying industry, and abused the spirit of the OGL while ostensibly obeying the letter.

  2. “abused the spirit of the OGL”???

    The “spirit” of the OGL is for people outside of TSR to expand the game in ways that either they never thought of or that Hasbro wouldn’t deem commercially vaible enough to publish. Seems to me that’s exactly what Valterra is doing. There are a tremendous number of gamers who are at or above the age of majority for their geographic region. If the product is not to your taste, don’t buy it; there’s no reason that decision should limit others’ choices.

    And while we’re on the subject, isn’t it a little premature to pass judgement on a product that hasn’t been released yet? Or is that just me being too hippy leftist?

  3. There’s a preview available, plus ample discussion of the product by Valterra and those who’ve seen material (links available at Valar’s site). I’d consider that an ample basis from which to draw solid conclusions concerning the product.

    I suggest you read my complete comments at Roll the Bones (, if you’d like to see how the “[i]f the product is not to your taste, don’t buy it” argument simply doesn’t wash.

  4. Yes, yes, thank you, your holiness for dictating to me what I should and should not want to read, should and should not be able to read, and what others should or should not be able to produce.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m strolling to the corner to smugly smirk with that “I told you so” expression.

  5. I don’t think you can lay the blame soley at ol’ Anthony’s feet, since WotC started the whole “mature content” thing with their Book of Vile Darkness – which was an *official* D&D product. Now they’re having to reap what they’ve sown. Unfortunately, every single d20 publisher will be paying the price right along with them. Personally, I’m not interested in this kind of product, no matter WHO it’s from. But the true ramifcations of the situation are far greater than most people realize. Because once this little alteration is in place, WotC will effectively have carte blanche to approve or deny ANY product from someone other than themselves, all under the pretense of “Quality Standards” – and that is a risk no publisher can afford to take.

  6. Read your comments, Bones. Paranoia and angst are so 1998. If WotC is willing to dissolve the OGL anytime anyone does something they don’t like, it was never actually “open” to begin with. The wonder of open sourcing something is the fact that you get every conceivable idea and a few that aren’t conceivable contributed to the project; the curse is exactly the same thing.

    You ask me, this new move is a good thing. Before, everyone suspected WotC would react like this if someone pissed them off, but there was nothing out in the open. Now at least there’s a ground rule that answers the question. All we need to do now is establish a clearer precedent for what does and does not constitute “appropriate”.

    If you don’t like Valterra’s ideas personally, that’s your business. I still don’t see how that construes to counter the “if you don’t like it, don’t buy it” argument. By your logic, anyone who is being “polite” isn’t going to run afoul of WotC’s new regulations anyway, and as such Valterra’s actions don’t affect them at all.

  7. First off, I don’t like the idea that a company that should decide FOR ME what is considered acceptable content or not. My taste varies, from simple entertainment for all ages to adult-only material. The idea to clean up the label is long past. Political Correctness and Reverend Falwell is long past (thank Gawd, Wizards of the Coast brought back the names “Demons” and “Devils”). I don’t need a moral police to tell me what I can have in my collection. I don’t need someone to limit my choice because of Decency. Secondly, Wizards of the Coast is going to have a doozy of a migraine trying to police third-party content. By instituting the Standards of Decency clause, it makes them liable in a court case, if they fail to act in time to remove questionable content. NOW, they CAN be named in a lawsuit. THIRDLY, while it does not affect OGL, if WotC is going through with this clause, then on the green side of the fence, we may see a shift in d20-logo product to OGL/SRD-based products. They may have to do without such label that states compatibility with D&D and other d20 products, but our community have survived this long through words of mouth, now moreso with the advent of internet. IOW, expect gamers to look fondly at Monte Cook’s ARCANA UNEARHTED, aka the “alternative player’s handbook.” (That is, until a better one comes along.)

  8. You are all forgetting one thing. WIzards [Hasbro] owns the SRD information and trademark which you are using. They have EVERY right to limit what you (by you, I mean publishers) do with their content. In order to use their materials, you must comply with their agreement. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. These are the same standards Rich was asserting to derivative works above: “If the product is not to your taste, don’t buy it…”

  9. Correction: They don’t want their trademarks to be associated with “indecent” material (as defined by them). HOWEVER, as I said before, Wizards cannot legally stop us (by us, I mean publishers) from using the d20 ruleset (which is OGC) and use their OGL that does not contain such restriction like the Standards of Decency to make a standalone game product that does not require the PLAYER’S HANDBOOK. We will see a surge of SRD/OGL-based products on store shelves and less support for the d20 network of products in the future.

  10. I’m sure you’re right, Dai Oni. Since they haven’t placed the same restrictions on the OGL, we will probably see a spike in products which were originally planned for the trademark license. Of course, this would undoubtedly hurt product sales since most rely on the d20 trademark for marketing. The exceptions being the highly successful uses of the OGL such as M&M and Babylon 5.

  11. It will hurt projected sales since they did factor in the brand equity of the d20 logo, but I think that if they market their product right, plus lower their sales expectation, they may survive. After all, D&D did start off slow. The only advantage of today’s competitive RPG market: they got us and the internet to endorse their products. There is no better advertisement method than by word-of-mouth. I predict that if Wizards does not remove the Decency Clause, someone will take the SRD and make an Alternative Core Game Book out of it, and establish a trademarked logo with a less restrictive Trademark Use License. It will allow a Covered Product to be an Interactive Game, or even contains Miniatures. More importantly, it allows publishers to produce a wide range of products.

  12. I personally know at least three aspiring RPG publishers who were planning to get their start in the slightly more lucrative d20 market, and then expand from there. All three individuals have now reconsidered because of this license revision being far too vague and open to abuse.

  13. And who can blame ’em? Damn few people can afford the $10K or greater “entry fee” it takes to produce just ONE d20 book, only to have someone at WotC decide ‘at their sole discretion’ that there’s a problem and force that person to recall and/or destroy the entire press run; an event which has already happened to Fast Forward Entertainment (though the nature of their infraction was different.) Make no mistake, folks… Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And the good folks at Wizards have been in power a long, long time. This “revision” – or, more importantly, the vague language of it – is all about making sure it stays that way.

  14. Not exactly. After having gone through three layoffs that I know of, many of the people that were there three years ago have left the company, including the founder himself. Anthony Valterra is one of the “old guards” who endorsed and supported Ryan Dancey’s proposal of d20/OGL. Now, with only a few that is left, many are fresh faces and the company’s upper management are newly transferred from outside by Hasbro. And all of them agree that the d20 logo should not be symbol of … what a moral majority president would say? … smut. My opinion? Censorship is bad.

  15. Yes, well, said founder (Peter Adkison) DID leave as a multi-millionaire, as did a fair number of the “old guard” (Lisa Stevens, CEO of Paizo Publishing, for example) thanks to MtG and previous stock options. Trust me, Dai, there are two facets (or perhaps one should say “faces”) to these people, old AND new. The side the public sees, and the side one witnesses first hand when trying to do business with them (as I have). There is a… a level of smug arrogance, of casual disdain to these people (again, both old and new) that you simply would NOT believe… *shakes head, rueful chuckle*… and something that I hope you will never have to experience. (Yes, Mr. Dancey did a wonderful thing when he crafted that d20/OGL proposal – he also moved a ton o’ WotC core rulebooks, won over the ever-fickle gamer crowd, and gave himself a life raft to climb into after jumping the WotC ship.) So, to me, this latest revision to the d20STL is like handing a complete stranger a loaded gun and saying, “Here, watch my back.” The GOOD news, as you yourself pointed out a few posts back, is that the remaining third-party publishers can simply create a joint NEW logo, use the OGL exclusively, and abandon d20 altogether. In effect, WotC has just taken every company that was cranking out D&D (d20) support material and turned them into direct competitors. And ya know what? That just breaks my heart. 😉

  16. I hope that we do not meet. I relish my smug arrogance and casual disdain that I project to others in public (my sensitive side is only known to close circle). Nevertheless, these “arrogant people” didn’t think that Wizards should not be reviewing content. Therefore they didn’t need to add such clause. Even I do not think of “D&D” and “d20” logos as being in the same level of Walt Disney and Children’s Television Workshop. No offense, but anyone think that they “D&D” should have a pristine image should just “Take 0” on his Intelligence check. While I consider censorship bad, I can tolerate labelling, but this also must be on good faith, which have worked out so far prior to version 5.

  17. “I relish my smug arrogance and casual disdain that I project to others in public…” Yes, that much is abundantly clear. It is also painfully obvious that you have exactly *zero* experience in the gaming industry and absolutely no business sense. This latest change isn’t about censorship and never has been – it’s about control. You’re distraught over the possibility of D&D being turned into a medieval version of Sesame Street. The publishers are angry at the prospect of spending $10K+ on a project, only to have someone at WotC, brimming over with all those attributes you’re so proud of, declare the product in violation of the d20STL – WHETHER IT DOES OR NOT – and ordering the entire press run recalled and destroyed. The language of this revision is so incredibly vague, WotC could *easily* get away with such a thing. But don’t take my word for it: Clark Peterson of Necromancer Games, who happens to be a lawyer, has released a .PDF on the subject. You can find it on the main page over at (and perhaps NG’s site as well). I suggest you read it.

  18. I think we’re all agreed that 1) publishers can make indecent D20 material as much as they want, they’ll just make up a new logo; 2) adult gamers will continue to be able to find it; 3) WotC’s only doing this so they can get the core books into Walmart, the world’s largest and stodgiest retailer. So I’m gonna close this discussion before it gets ugly. Thanks for playing. We might reopen a topic on some of these finer points in particular.

  19. “Wal-mart Standards.” Hmph. I’m of the sinister mind to promote and endorse Walmart products as kinky sex tools, including their clothing lines for striptease videos, or their October/Halloween costume shop for adult-themed roleplaying.

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